How hard are Core math problems?

Math teachers in Maryland analyzed a Core-aligned fourth-grade math performance task from PARCC, reports Liana Heitin on Ed Week. Several were surprised at how much it required.

PARCC math item deer.JPG

Teachers listed what students need to know and be able to do to solve the problem:

The definitions of perimeter and area
How to find perimeter and area
The definition of a square mile
The properties of a rectangle
How to solve for an unknown in a perimeter
Multiplication (up to multi-digit)
Addition and subtraction (up to multi-digit)

Some might need division, depending on how they approached the problem.

And everyone will need reading and writing skills.

Students earn credit for finding the missing side length, for finding the area of the park, and for calculating the final number of deer. They also can get partial credit for each piece if they make minor calculation errors. That means the problem must be scored by a person, not a machine.

Here are some fifth-grade math questions released by New York. (Here are third- through eighth-grade questions for English and math.)

The next one involves the (gasp!) metric system.

Could I have solved these in fifth grade? I think so.

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  1. I agree that there are some steps to this problem, but they’re not terribly difficult ones, either conceptually or computationally. I have no idea if this is within the curriculum of a fourth grader.

    I do have one question, however: does that “9 deer in each square mile of the park” include the roughly 1-square-mile lake in the middle? 🙂

    As for the juice, two out of the four answers are ludicrous, so that at least narrows it down to a 50% chance of getting it right.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I did a double-take on the raisin problem.

    2/3 * 2.5, right? So that’s 5 thirds, or 1 and two thirds. Easy peasy.

    But 1 and two thirds isn’t actually one of the answers, and I was momentarily confounded. But only for a moment.

    Still, converting to the listed answer is a whole separate step in the problem.

    • Obi-Wandreas says:

      They’re expecting kids to convert 2.5 to 5/2, then do 2/3 * 5/2 = 10/6 = 1 4/6.

      This is stupid for numbers so small.

      It should be basic logic: 2 and a half = twice, plus half more. So you do 2/3 twice, plus half of 2/3. In other words: 4/3 plus 1/3 = 5/3, or 1 2/3.

      By not giving the answers in lowest terms, they’ve limited the methods available and made it unnecessarily complicated, all in the name of ‘simplifying’ by not making kids who used the ‘approved’ method reduce. Answers should always be in lowest terms anyway.

      • I can’t count the number of times I have seen college students do exactly that: multiply first, and then (maybe) consider reducing the fraction. It drives me nuts, because they are making extra work for themselves.

        Way back when, I was taught to cancel common factors *first* before doing any multiplication, so naturally any answers thus obtained would already be in lowest terms. But heaven forfend I should actually do that in class – were I to do so, it would certainly generate “deer in the headlights” looks and questions of “Where did you get that from?” And these are college students ~

  3. These are all solvable by students who are on grade level or higher. To get there is going to require the district to stop gaming the tests and actually teach all of the units. And there will have to be less disruptions in the classroom to get it accomplished.